Review – They Are Billions (Xbox One)
Zombie games have been done in just about every style and genre conceivable, so it would be understandable if you have “zombie fatigue”. I have even been feeling a bit of this fatigue with a handful of titles, but it ultimately depends on how unique the overall mechanics are and how they implement the zombies. I’ve never been a massive fan of RTS and tower defense games in general, but there is something in the way Numantian Games has combined the genres and themes together that makes They Are Billions feel fresh.
As I mentioned before They Are Billions is a RTS, survival, tower defense game set in a post-apocalypse zombie hell with a steampunk flair to it. I feel like all of these things separately have been done to death, but I’m not sure I have seen them all mashed up into one game until now. The PC version has had plenty of updates even adding in a story mode, unfortunately the console ports only come with the survival modes and the challenges of the week. Despite the lack of campaign modes, the survival mode will still provide plenty of hours of gameplay and fun. There isn’t much story involved here besides the basic idea of building your base, surviving hordes, and growing your colony.
The way They Are Billions determines the difficulty of your survival mode is also interesting as it gives you a few different options. You can decide how many in-game days you have until the massive horde comes knocking at your door. The more days you have, the more you can prepare and build your colony and defenses. One-hundred and fifty days is the max amount of days which gives you plenty of time to prepare. The smaller the amount of days the more points you get, but you’ll need to be very familiar with the key pillars of items to build since you don’t have time to waste. You can also change the overall amount of total zombies on your map to ensure that smaller hordes don’t take you out before the big one comes.
I tried playing the various difficulty modes, obviously starting with the easiest since I was unfamiliar and admittedly not the best at the RTS genre. Even with all the modifiers on easy or very easy, there is still quite a bit of challenge. Before the main horde arrives your defenses will still be tested by smaller attacks and if you aren’t prepared it could mean a quick ending. There isn’t much of a tutorial, but as you build you understand what prerequisite building or materials you’re going to need to continue to advance. Also, it took me a little too long to figure out there was an in-game pause button I can use to plan moves without wasting days. I blame my noob status on that one.
The building is pretty straight forward; it’s all a constant back and forth of man power and material collecting. You need to build a wall around your base, but you will need wood. To build a sawmill you need a certain amount of workers. To obtain workers you need to build housing. It’s a constant loop throughout the entire game, but it is engaging and each time you need to restart you get better, quicker, and more efficient. The gameplay loop is addicting in itself, but building isn’t enough.
Quickly you’ll realize that you need defenses and walls aren’t enough. You start out with only three archers and a gunman, and this is okay to protect your four main walls only for a little while. You’ll quickly need a barracks to turn your workers into soldiers (another balancing act). Towers will increase the distance your defenders can shoot at targets, trebuchets are good for area of effect damage, and spiked walls damage and slow down zombies as well.
As you continue to grow and larger hordes start coming, you’ll need to invest in bigger more steady buildings. You’ll move from wood to stone to steel, all unlocking bigger and better building and defenses. Allowing you to deck workers out in full combat gear and use snipers and other weapons. Because if you do not advance, you will die. All it takes is a couple zombies to break into your walls and take over one house. The evil thing about They Are Billions is that the zombies don’t just break down the house or factory, they turn any worker inside into a zombie. What was just two zombies that broke inside has now turned into twenty because they infected a warehouse.
Once the outbreak happens, it doesn’t take long to spread and you’ll witness the “Game Over” screen. It’s all of these elements added together that make the game so engrossing, and so painful. Hours invested into building a large colony can be taken down in a minute if you aren’t careful. The one thing that frustrated me the most was playing it on a console. The gamepad support works fine for the most part, but it is very awkward and takes a bit to get use to. Once you get a decent army going it can be a hassle managing them all. Luckily, as I stated above, you can pause the in-game time to coordinate placements, but it is still clunky in and of itself.
There are also a couple annoying things that need to be addressed for overall fluidity, but the main one is arranging already built buildings. On almost all buildings you have the option to destroy and get half your materials back, except with workshops. Workshops are needed to unlock new buildings for a particular resource, but they also take up a lot of space. Instead of being able to just destroy and move it as you build and expand, you have to take your army and have them destroy it for you. This unfortunately doesn’t give you back resources like the other buildings do.
The graphics are nice, I enjoy the gothic steampunk look and tone of the overall game. You definitely feel like your in a post apocalyptic environment with the color pallets and eerie fog of war around. The general design of buildings are well detailed and differentiated enough to not look like a blob of building together. You’ll quickly be able to navigate through and find the places you need. They Are Billions isn’t going for the best graphics, but it does well enough as long as you don’t zoom in too close.
There isn’t much of a soundtrack outside of some light tunes during a horde. Most of the sound design comes from the various soundbites heard around the town. The sawmill chugging along, gunshots from your tower defenses, growls and grumbles from oncoming zombies. All of these general soundbites are done well enough and used appropriately that they don’t distract from the experience.
They Are Billions is a great mix of genres that I enjoyed very much, despite some issues with it being on console in general. The gamepad support unfortunately will never compare to the keyboard and mouse alternative, but it’s serviceable. Outside of a few design annoyances, I wish there was more content other than a survival mode, a weekly challenge, and four maps. Hopefully the story mode for the PC version makes its way to the console version soon.
The art design with the combination of dark and eerie tones and steampunk flair mix very well together. Some of the finer details are muddy and lost when zoomed in.
General gameplay is okay, but using a gamepad may be the worst way to play. Luckily, you can pause time to queue up actions, but it is still clumsy. Some design choices are questionable.
There isn’t much to the sound design outside of the zombies, confirming dialogue, and general machinery noise. Sound track is mostly absent outside of the creepy ominous sounds.
Fun Factor: 7.5
They Are Billions is fun, but unforgivingly brutal even on easier modes. The mix of RTS, survival horror, and tower defense works very well.
Final Verdict: 7.5
They Are Billions is available now on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of They Are Billions was provided by the publisher.